China’s top commander has blamed Australia for compromising peace and stability in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, amid rising tension between the two nations.
The comments were made during a meeting between navy commander Shen Jinlong and visiting Australian counterpart Tim Barrett on Thursday, the Ministry of National Defence said.
“The situation in the South China Sea is positive, but a series of moves by the Australian army this year have compromised the overall trend of peace and stability in the area,” Shen was quoted as saying.
“This goes against the consensus agreed by leaders of both countries, as well as the goodwill they are trying to develop. It is also not beneficial to the safety and stability of the region.”
Australia joined Japan, Canada and the US in early June for two days of military exercises in the South China Sea. The island country has traditionally called for restraint in power and respect of international laws in the disputed waters, over which China lays claim to “indisputable sovereignty”. Other countries in the region, such as the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia, also claim territorial sovereignty.
Canberra has expressed increasing concern about China’s dominance and influence in the Indo-Pacific region. In November, the Australian government released a foreign policy white bill criticising China’s creation of artificial islands in the South China Sea, which were built by dredging 13 kilometres of the sea floor.
Shen warned Australia to take into consideration the rights and concerns of the countries involved, and to “add positive elements” to the relationship.
The meeting was held in the midst of what is seen as a growing diplomatic row between Australia and China. Last week, Australia’s ambassador to China, Jan Adams, was summoned by the Chinese Foreign Ministry after Australia introduced a new law that bans foreign political donations. The law was prompted by a political controversy in Australia, where Labor Party lawmaker Sam Dastyari was revealed to have links with a wealthy Chinese Australian businessman, Huang Xiangmo, a political donor with close ties to Beijing. Dastyari resigned from the senate a few days ago.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has also expressed concerns about reports of Chinese interference in Australian universities and politics. Beijing has denied the allegations and criticised Turnbull for negatively affecting bilateral relations.